Book Review: Dizzy in Durango by D. R. Ransdell

Dizzy in DurangoDizzy in Durango
An Andy Veracruz Mystery #3
D. R. Ransdell
Oak Tree Press, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-61009-212-8
Trade Paperback

Trouble follows Andy Veracruz, and this time it’s at the airport in Durango, Mexico where the problems begin. Andy is there to visit his fellow Mariachi musician and sometimes lover, Rachel, who is there for a family celebration. But a sexy woman at the airport attracts his attention, leaves her purse with him, and disappears.

Inside the bag, Andy finds three thousand dollars. He involves his girlfriend in his search for the missing woman, and they run into danger. Stolen children, dead bodies, and psychotic killers from Durango to the Mexican border to Tucson, Arizona disrupt romantic intentions. Too, Andy’s dizzy spells produce concerns among his Mexican friends.

Meanwhile, Andy’s relationship with his girlfriend and his music career take unexpected twists and turns. The small-town setting of Durango, a symphony audition in Tucson, and the Arizona desert landscape add interest and appeal to the story.

Although references to previous episodes in the series disrupt the flow a few times, this cozy mystery is a page-turner with plenty of action. At the same time, it presents character studies and moral dilemmas that cause the reader to reflect on solutions long after the final scene.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, March 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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Book Reviews: Murder in the Worst Degree by F.M. Meredith and Runaway Man by David Handler

Murder in the Worst DegreeMurder in the Worst Degree
F.M. Meredith
Oak Tree Press, March 2014
ISBN 978-1-61009-145-9
Trade Paperback

Although Murder in the Worst Degree is the tenth book in F.M. Meredith’s Rocky Bluff PD series, you don’t need to have read the nine previous novels to pick up on the action. I believe the several characters would’ve been easier to keep track of if you’d read the earlier books, so this is a hint that you might want to read a couple of those first. It’s not completely necessary, though, and it isn’t long before you learn who is who. And the setting—the California coast—is so vividly depicted you can almost taste the salt air. I loved the foggy scenes.

The story begins with a couple surfer dudes discovering the battered body of an elderly man in the water. Turns out he didn’t drown, which brings a murder investigation to the fore. Suspects are rampant. The men and women of the Rocky Bluff PD are soon knee deep in not only contending with a new chief of police, the murder, and what may be a serial rapist on the loose—when an earthquake hits. Good stuff, for sure.

F.M. Meredith ties up all the loose ends concerning the mysteries, and doesn’t neglect the drama of her character’s lives in this most enjoyable short novel.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

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Runaway ManRunaway Man
David Handler
Minotaur, August 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-01162-6
Hardcover

Benji Golden is the eponymous protagonist in this newest book by David Handler, so called because since he got his license as a p.i. he has gotten a reputation for tracking down young runaways. His late father was a hero cop, a homicide detective whose exploits were made famous when a movie was done about his capture of a subway serial killer who had terrorized New York City a couple of decades ago. Since his death a couple of years back the p.i. agency he’d founded is run by his widow, Abby, who had the distinction in her youth of being “the only Jewish pole dancer in New York City,” under the name Abraxas (nee Abby Kaminsky from Sheepshead Bay). Baby-faced Benji (nickname “Bunny”) still calls her “boss,” to which she strongly objects. They are ably assisted by Rita, a gorgeous 42-year-old computer wizard who was a lap dancer back in the day, and Gus, their “grizzled office cat.”

When a partner in a white-shoe Park Avenue law firm comes into their office and wants to hire Benji to find a young man, a college senior who has gone missing and who is apparently about to inherit a considerable amount of money from an unnamed client, the very large fee offered makes it difficult to turn down, despite the enigmatic way in which the situation is presented: No names, no clues, and no mention of the law firm’s name allowed. Benji, being the resourceful investigator that he is, and assisted by a cop who was like a big brother to him, his father’s mentee, Lieutenant Larry “Legs” Diamond (I loved that!), does track down the young man in question, but at some cost: Several murders soon take place, the ensuing investigation at one point leading to a gathering of the strangest bedfellows imaginable, including the Police Commissioner. Benji’s own life becomes threatened, but he is determined to find out who is behind these crimes, and hopefully stay alive in the process.

This was one of the most enjoyable reads, and protagonists, I’ve come across in a while. The writing is sprinkled with terrific wit and humor. The author also includes a lot of fascinating New York history, of much of which I, a life-long resident of the city and its suburbs, was unaware. Parenthetically, this Brooklyn-born-and-raised reviewer loved that Benji’s mother and grandmother were raised in that borough (and I forgive him for having a poster of NY Yankee great Derek Jeter hanging on his wall), and that he loves original soundtrack albums of great Broadway musicals. Runaway Man is a quick and terrific read, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2014.

Book Reviews: Three Seconds to Thunder by C.K. Crigger and Eggs in a Casket by Laura Childs

Three Seconds to ThunderThree Seconds to Thunder
C.K. Crigger
Oak Tree Press, June 2012
ISBN 978-1-61009-106-0
Trade Paperback

It’s a Victorian mystery with a twist; instead of being set in a city, the action takes place on  the northwestern inland frontier around Spokane, Washington.

China Bohannan, office manager to the private detective firm of Doyle and Howe, can handle a gun better than her typewriter, and would rather be out in the field than writing reports. When her Uncle Monk fails to report in while investigating the disappearance of a homesteader, China sets out with her terrier Nimble to search for him. The rough lumber towns  and homesteads are no place for a woman on her own, but China is not afraid to mix it up with the bad buys to rescue her uncle. Big lumber interests are buying up homesteads in the area, and if the homesteaders don’t want to sell, they are coerced or disappear.

China is also attracted to her boss, Gratton Doyle, who only seems interested in her ability to master the new typewriter. Readers who enjoy the historical mysteries of Miriam Grace Monfredo and Laurie King may enjoy the independent, spirited China, who puts fear into her opponents when she wields her hat pin.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, February 2014.

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Eggs in a CasketEggs in a Casket
A Cackleberry Club Mystery
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-425-25558-2
Hardcover

Set in the small town of Kindred, Suzanne Dietz owns the Cackleberry Café with her friends Toni and Petra. The Cackleberry Café becomes the place to be, come mornings for town folk to socialize, gossip and gobble down home style breakfasts of Canadian bacon, cornbread and cranberry muffins. Suzanne is the sensible, stable voice of reason in their establishment. Toni, a bit more wild and adventurous and Petra, the main cook, is settled and wise in the ways of the world. Not to mention a terrific cook, able to sling an egg and bacon to warm the heart of the community, including the lovable, overweight sheriff, Doogie, and Suzanne’s sweetheart, Dr. Hazelet. Ms. Childs includes many of Petra’s recipes at the end of the book.

When a man is found murdered in the local graveyard, and Suzanne’s friend Missy, is accused, Suzanne and her friends take it upon themselves to find the killer.

What ensues is a delightful cozy mystery where Suzanne and Toni cavort through the county, questioning the local lawyer, mayor, the town recluse, the murdered man’s ex-wife, and just about everyone else in town, trying to  save Missy from taking the fall.

Adverse spring weather dampens the already dampened spirits as almost every clue seems to point back to Missy, or could someone be framing her with planted evidence? Then another townsperson connected to the investigation is attacked, and again, Missy is blamed. Despite Suzanne’s advice, Missy begins to make poor choices that suggest her complicity in the matter.

In the dramatic conclusion, hurricane winds and sluicing rain becomes the setting for Suzanne as she rides her horse through the woods in a desperate attempt to save her sweetheart. What she encounters at the end of her journey and the subsequent encounter with the unexpected killer brings the story to its exciting ending.

Eggs in A Casket is an easy read with a charming small town setting and delightful characters, just the kind of cozy mystery that bring readers back again and again to Ms. Childs’ books.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, February 2014.

Book Reviews: Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke, Jambalaya Justice by Holly Castillo, and “The President Has Been Shot” by James L. Swanson

Rutherford ParkRutherford Park
Elizabeth Cooke
Berkley Books, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-425-26258-0
Trade Paperback

Shades of everyone’s favorite, Downton Abbey, with a bit of Warhorse thrown in for seasoning. Not that this is a bad thing, since Rutherford Park will prove every bit as addictive as those two. A reader can’t help but become involved in the lives of characters great and small, highest society and lowest servant.

Timing for the story puts us on the cusp of World War One–the Great War. William Cavendish, owner of the massive Rutherford Park estate, is preoccupied with the politics of preventing a war. Octavia, his wife, whom he married nineteen years ago for her money, is stuck at home worrying not only about her children, but about William’s coldness toward her. It is in the midst of a snowy Christmas that Octavia sees her husband kissing another woman, rending her heart. Then her son denies the housemaid he’s gotten with child, and the girl dies. With the Cavendishs so divided, one wonders if the family can survive.

Aside from fortune hunting and matrimonial concerns, manners and the avoidance of scandal—although not always scandalous behavior—preoccupy the upper class. Secrets abound. However, their servants know everything, and in their way, class strictures are as hidebound for them as for their betters. What a world. What a fascinating world!

Excellently written, the prose flows smoothly, the settings scintillate, the history teaches without effort as the characters come alive.

Rutherford Park includes a reader’s guide, handy for book clubs.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Jambalaya JusticeJambalaya Justice
Crescent City Mystery #2
Holly Castillo
Oak Tree Press, August 2011
ISBN 978-1-61009-020-9
Trade Paperback

The Big Easy heats up in Holly Castillo‘s latest mystery thriller. It’s a novel of the cops and the courts and it wouldn’t be New Orleans without some hot romance thrown into the mix. It’s undercover chills, bedroom thrills, and even a judge who insists on jokes in his courtroom. What else is included in Jambalaya Justice? Too much to list here and too much fun to spoil it.

Ryan Murphy, an assistant DA in New Orleans, involves herself in the death of a hooker, the latest in a serial killer’s string of victims. This while also dealing with other cases that include a trial of a slick fancy-dressing mobster, domestic abuse, and the robbery of a French Quarter strip club. Shep Chapetti, her boyfriend and an SID detective, is working the disappearance and apparent death of a prosecutor. One problem with the case is the supposed victim has a background that doesn’t add up but may have family ties to Murphy. The other problem is Shep is teamed up with an annoying ex-girlfriend, another attorney in the DA’s office.

The connections between the individuals in the cases and the characters would need a large chalkboard to figure out. I envy Castillo for keeping everything straight and by dishing out teasers. This kept me guessing and surprised by each revelation. Not everybody is who they claim to be, but you can believe this: Castillo brings a fantastic story to the forefront of mystery fiction. When it comes to writing about New Orleans, an author has to make it big and flashy and exciting. Castillo doesn’t disappoint and I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next novel.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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The President Has Been Shot“The President Has Been Shot!”
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

James L. Swanson
Scholastic Press, October 2013
ISBN 0-545-49007-8
Hardcover

James L. Swanson is not a new author.  You may recognize his name from his New York Times bestseller The 12-Day Hunt for Lincoln’s Killer.

There are many, many things I like about this book.  The level of detail is amazing.  Rarely, are we treated to such a meticulous account in a non-fiction work.  I believe that these little nuggets of awesome play a large part in making this appealing to younger audiences.  Actually, this adult reader was genuinely surprised by some remarkably interesting points that I had not been aware of, despite learning about Kennedy in history classes.  Jackie slipping her wedding band into Jack’s hand when she realized that he was gone was one of the most endearing things ever.  The explanations as to why it appeared to viewers that Kennedy won the first televised debate, while the radio listeners felt that Nixon was the winner, were very intriguing.  I would be remiss; however, if I did not state that, while this level of detail was greatly appreciated throughout most of the book, the description of the impact and damage caused by Oswald’s bullet felt very gruesome, to me.  Anything less would have detracted from the integrity of the book, I realize and appreciate that; I just think it is worthy of mention for readers with a delicate stomach.

The brief history provided really allows the reader to know Jack Kennedy, the person.  The Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis and The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty were all very important events that no longer seem prominent in history classes today.  I appreciate the refreshers, and I am certain that young readers will welcome this knowledge.

Mr. Swanson painstakingly chose photographs to accompany this telling, again helping the reader to know and appreciate President and Jackie Kennedy.  Also included are diagrams of the motorcade and The Texas School Book Depository’s sixth floor.  Speculation and questions as to why Lee Harvey Oswald decided to assassinate the president are presented in thought-provoking way, rather than just laying out the facts as we know them.

This is a fascinating account of a 50 year old tragedy that we still do not understand.  I hope to see this book in many a Middle-School and High-School library, and I strongly recommend this to History teachers everywhere.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013.

Book Review: Fools Rush In by Sunny Frazier

Fools Rush In 2Fools Rush In
Sunny Frazier
Oak Tree Press, May 2010
ISBN 978-1-892343-68-0
Trade Paperback

I picked up Fools Rush In based on a recommendation from a friend.   It sounded interesting and I   wanted to read something “slightly different” in the mystery genre.  This book fit the “slightly different” category in my eyes because it included narcotics, informants, astrology, and mystery.  I was not sure how the author would pull it all together to make a great read, but SHE DID!

The book is fast paced and enjoyable to read, in fact, I read it all in one night.  The main character, Christy Bristol, is unique and I fell in love with her immediately.   Her understanding of law enforcement and ability to bring her astrology background (in the form of a horoscope) to assist a NARC she may or may not have feelings for, the “Wolfman,” with a major problem he’s found himself in was amazing.  The author nailed exactly how people in the narcotics world think and behave, which strengthened the credibility and believability of Fools Rush In.

The infusion of astrology kept the book moving along and made for a fantastic read.  I know nothing of astrology, but it made sense, and was very interesting to learn about.  The fact the author found a way to use the information to help provide leads for the case was fascinating.

Overall, this book was a “must read” for me.  I’ve read a lot of books.   Many are commercialized in today’s ever-changing market (cookie cutter with the same plot).  Fools Rush In not only was entertaining but informational.   It includes excellent dialogue and subtle humor and romance.  I can’t think of a better combo!  The book is part of the “Christy Bristol” series by Sunny Frazier.  I cannot wait for the next book by this author.

Reviewed by Chris Swinney, June 2013.
Author of the upcoming Gray Ghost.